It was my birthday yesterday; and along with a plethora of phone calls and online birthday wishes, I received a number of cards and gifts from the members and Sunday School classes of my church. It was very affirming, and I’m grateful not only for all the folks who took a moment to think of me — but also for the fact that they find something in my life and ministry worth celebrating.
It’s a funny thing — being valued or respected by others. On the one hand, it seems rather clear that we’re created to need that sense of affirmation — that feeling that we’re wanted and loved. On the other hand, that need can all-too-easily compel us to behave in ways that are aimed solely at raising our estimation in the eyes of the people around us, rather than finding our value in the eyes of the One who created us, loves us and gave Himself for us.
Jesus, I think, saw this dynamic playing itself out in the lives of certain religious leaders of his day. (On a side note, I wonder if we religious leaders are especially susceptible to this danger, because we can always clothe our approval-seeking in a mantle of righteousness-seeking.) He said of them: “Everything they do is done for people to see…They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” (Matthew 23:5-7) And as a result, he went on to describe a different way of living that would characterize the people who followed Him:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
Here at my church, I’m most often referred to as “Pastor Alex.” And as far as titles go, it’s one that I hope is genuinely expressive of the way in which I approach my work — and one that doesn’t tempt me to think too much of myself. But even as I enjoy that certain kind of respect that comes from being a pastor, I pray that my deeper aim will be the role of servant — of God, of my family and church family, and of a world in need.
May we our hunger for respect be satisfied only by the blessing of our Audience of One; and may we truly live with the mind of Christ; who, as the Suffering Servant, humbled himself and became obedient, even to the way of the cross.